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By Florence Chong
The Australian
May 28, 2009 07:45am

FIVE months after taking on a job in a large Dubai property group, a Sydney property specialist has returned to Australian after promises made during the interview disappeared the day he arrived in Dubai.

“The project for which I was hired to develop was cancelled due to the credit crunch,” said the executive, who declined to be named, The Australian reports.

“The base salary was $US500,000 ($640,000) a year plus generous bonuses. Potentially, it was a $US1.4 million package – tax free.” The icing on the cake was to be six weeks of annual leave.

But two months after taking on the job last October, he said: “The Australian executives in my company were arrested on allegations of corruption. There was a real sense of unease in that place.”

Expatriates have been arrested along with local employees on charges of alleged corruption and espionage.

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DA of Ireland “It is quite unbelievable. It is like stuff you see in a James Bond movie,” said another Australian executive.

Officially, the charges remain unclear. Those who spoke to The Australian said the bursting of Dubai’s property bubble had sent companies and authorities searching for someone to blame.

The irony was that nothing happened in Dubai without the signature of the chairman of the company, said one Australian executive who resigned because the company changed his job description on arrival.

“An individual had his computer removed from his desk when he went on holidays. On his return, the company’s security guards escorted him out of the building,” the executive said.

“He believed sensitive information in his computer regarding an offshore investment that has gone sour overseas could be the reason.”

Stories and circumstances of how expatriates have lost their jobs have painted a grim picture of Dubai. Some of those still employed talk of paranoia and fear of persecution.

The reason? The arrest of fellow Australians, mostly in the property sector, without charges.

A spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said 17 Australians were currently detained in Dubai.

He said five were in prison or detained. Of these five, three had been charged with a variety of matter.

The situation of the remaining 12 was unclear as no charges had been laid, but their passports had been seized to prevent them from leaving the country, sources said.

An official source said the number of Australians getting into trouble with the law in the UAE had risen from 23 cases in 2005-06 to 55 in 2007-08 and still rising.

“There is no doubt the number of cases is growing, but then the number of Australians working and living in the UAE is also rising,” said the source.

He said charges could range from drunkenness, not paying a bar bill to more serious charges such as embezzlement.

The most high-profile arrests are those of two former employees of Dubai-based Nakheel, Australians Matt Joyce and Marcus Lee, detained without charges since January.

They are alleged to be involved in bribery over the sale of the Waterfront site, now controlled by the Queensland-based Sunland.

While these cases are pending, a small number in senior management is concerned about phone tapping and monitoring of their emails, according to industry sources.

Several persons who lost their jobs recently spoke to The Australian on an anonymous basis, citing concerns of inadvertently implicating former colleagues still in Dubai.

One expatriate said that in at least one instance, the employer held a person “hostage” by refusing to return his passport until his embassy intervened.

“Holding on to passports is apparently a common tactic in disputes over severance payments,” said one executive.

“I was not paid out when I left, but I was not about to argue with them. I just wanted my passport back to jump on the first plane out.”

There are now about 20,000 Australians working in Dubai, lured by wonderful job descriptions and huge salary packages.

As jobs dry up, the Gulf’s largest investment bank EGF Hermes says Dubai’s population will shrink by 17 per cent this year.

The number of employees in the worst-affected sectors of construction, real estate and financial services will drop by 30 per cent this year, according to EGF Hermes.
http://www.news.com.au/business/story/0,27753,25549882-5017676,00.html

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